Inside the Freedom Caucus and Trump’s Newly Frosty Relationship

The House Freedom Caucus was a major force during Trump’s presidency. Now, as Trump prepares to take back the White House, the HFC is on the outside looking in.Updated Apr. 07, 2024 2:48AM EDT / Published Apr. 07, 2024 12:05AM EDT exclusivePhoto Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/GettyIt wasn’t so long ago that the House Freedom Caucus was known, essentially, as a

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The House Freedom Caucus was a major force during Trump’s presidency. Now, as Trump prepares to take back the White House, the HFC is on the outside looking in.

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Photo Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast/Getty

It wasn’t so long ago that the House Freedom Caucus was known, essentially, as a loyalist organization for Donald Trump.

During Trump’s White House reign, the Freedom Caucus was frequently the first line of defense for the embattled president, so much so that two HFC founders—then-Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Mark Meadows (R-NC)—became Trump’s last two chiefs of staff.

Of course, it wasn’t always like that. The Freedom Caucus has gone through a number of iterations in its nine years of existence, and in that time, the organization has changed just as dramatically—perhaps even more dramatically—than the GOP itself.

In fact, in its first days, the Freedom Caucus was more concerned with House procedure than anything else. You were more likely to hear Freedom Caucus members yelling about “open rules” than “Donald Trump.” But that changed quickly once Trump took the White House and Meadows took the HFC chairmanship.

While the Freedom Caucus had its early disagreements with the then-president—most notably over the first versions of a health-care overhaul—the organization quickly found itself in lockstep with Trump, both because the members themselves were terrified of crossing the president and because Trump actually took the Freedom Caucus’ counsel.

But now, as Trump prepares himself to take back the White House and Republicans ready for another chaotic administration, the HFC is in one of its most complicated relationships with the leader of the GOP. And there’s an oversimplified reason things are so tricky: Rep. Bob Good (R-VA).

Good is the current chairman of the Freedom Caucus, and unlike his predecessors—Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Meadows, Rep. Andy Biggs (R-AZ), and Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA)—he has a tortured relationship with Trump. The biggest reason is simply that Good was one of fewer than a dozen House Republicans who endorsed someone not named Trump in the 2024 presidential primary. (Good went for Florida governor Ron DeSantis, another Freedom Caucus founder back when he was in the House.)

Trump and his team, famous for holding a grudge, are already telegraphing that Good isn’t going to be making amends any time soon.

“Bob Good won’t be electable when we get done with him,” Chris LaCivita, a senior adviser on Trump’s presidential campaign, told a local Virginia news outlet recently. (The Trump campaign didn’t respond to a request for comment.)

Donald Trump shakes hands with Jim Jordan as he disembarks from Air Force One.

Donald Trump shakes hands with Jim Jordan as he disembarks from Air Force One.

Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

But a Trumpworld source told The Daily Beast that it’s not just Good who has set off alarm bells for Trump and his allies; other figures, like Rep. Chip Roy (R-TX)—another DeSantis endorser who has taken a prominent role in the Freedom Caucus—are a sign that the HFC won’t have the same relationship it once had with Trump should he win the White House.

“They’ve been elevating the people who aren’t Trump fans, and that’s definitely caught the eye of people at Mar-a-Lago,” this Trumpworld source told The Daily Beast, adding that the former president’s orbit was “pissed” when the Freedom Caucus made Good its next chairman.

While this source said the Freedom Caucus has always “been split between people who like Trump and people who deep down really dislike him,” that overstates the division. Yes, there were always some members who had reservations about Trump. Yes, the HFC has always had disagreements with Trump. But during his presidency, defending Trump became a primary function of the group. It’s why one of the group’s founders, Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI), mutually agreed to leave the group when he decided to support Trump’s impeachment.

Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), chair of the Freedom Caucus, speaks to reporters before attending a meeting in the offices of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA).

USA-CONGRESS/

Rep. Bob Good (R-VA), chair of the Freedom Caucus, speaks to reporters before attending a meeting in the offices of Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-LA).

Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

“The Freedom Caucus used to be Trump’s biggest allies in the House when he was president. But it has since changed over,” said Rep. Marjorie Taylore Greene (R-GA), one of Trump’s most ardent supporters in the House and a former Freedom Caucus member until she was kicked out last year.

Greene called the Freedom Caucus under Good “one of the most dangerous things to Trump’s next administration,” contending that the group used to be stacked with Trump’s biggest supporters and is now led by someone who didn’t want him to be president.

Naturally, Greene isn’t inclined to be kind to the HFC or Good. Her removal from the group has left her highly critical of the conservative faction, as well as Good’s participation in ousting Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) from the speakership—a close ally of hers—shrank her own influence. And while Greene may try to exacerbate the tension between Trump and the Freedom Caucus, she won’t be the only one.

Other sources in Trump’s orbit were clear with The Daily Beast that, as long as Good is the HFC chairman, the HFC will have a problem with Trump.

“He’s an ill-fitted leader for the Freedom Caucus, especially while Trump is running,” a source close to the former president told The Daily Beast. “If you endorsed Ron DeSantis it suggests you’re not in tune with the voters, and if you’re the head of the Freedom Caucus, you should be in touch with the voters. And if you’re somebody who never saw Trump coming the first time, let alone the second time, you lack touch with the voters.”

Of course, there were Freedom Caucus members who saw these problems before Good was elected chairman of the group. HFC veteran Warren Davidson (R-OH) wrote a letter to his Freedom Caucus colleagues in December warning that Good could be a problem.

“I ask that we consider how to best increase our influence while preserving our power to move policy in the right direction. I strongly feel that Bob Good as Chairman will impair that objective,” Davidson (R-OH) wrote. Later that day, Good won the internal election.

Sources close to the Freedom Caucus acknowledged to The Daily Beast that Good and the HFC have to repair the relationship with Trump—and these sources said Good has been trying to do just that.

“Bob Good wants a good relationship with President Trump, is desiring to repair some of the damage that is there, but realizes that some of the people advising the president may not let that happen,” one source close to the HFC said.

This source continued that the poor relationship with Trump is a “real concern,” and that a number of Freedom Caucus members needed to “repair the relationship with the former president.”

“They’re willing and wanting to do that,” this person said. “The question is whether there’s so much [history] that those around the former president will stop that from happening.”

As with most things in Trump’s orbit of influence, those around the former president look at influencing him as a zero sum game. Ensuring that the Freedom Caucus doesn’t have the same relationship it once had with Trump means others can sway him. In that sense, it’s in the interest of those currently on the inside to lock down access to Trump and make sure those on the outside remain far away.

Which is perhaps why sources around Trump were so eager to point out how Bob Good’s ascent to HFC chairman had complicated things—and how the HFC is just going through more general growing pains.

“The HFC has an identity crisis,” a second Trumpworld source said. “Some want to be Trumpy, some want to oppose the speaker, some want to make deals. There’s no identity.”

All of that may be true, but inside the Freedom Caucus, Good has drawn plaudits for addressing internal concerns that some members are simply part of the group just so they can advertise that credential to voters. One Freedom Caucus member, granted anonymity to speak candidly, said Good has been taking steps to ensure that HFC members are actually advancing the group’s interests.

“We’ve had some real conversations about people who had been kind of riding along, not necessarily pulling their weight, not showing up to meetings, not engaging, and you know, it’s not an organization that you get to just come and affiliate with, go back home and run on your conservative bonafides to your base,” this member said. “That’s not why we exist.”

Internally, some HFC members saw Rep. Ralph Norman (R-SC) as a natural fit to take the chairmanship this year. But Norman decided against running. Still, Norman told The Daily Beast that Good has been doing “a great job.”

“He gets consensus. He’s a good speaker and somebody whose meetings are well-attended. He’s a leader,” Norman said.

But the fact remains that, for many members, if Trump actually becomes president, something will have to change: Either Good will have to fix his relationship, or he’ll have to step down.

Or there may be a third option.

Good is locked in a Republican primary battle with pro-Trump challenger John McGuire, a Virginia state senator. The race has turned into a perfect example of the modern Republican Party, as two staunchly conservative candidates fight over who is the Trumpiest.

In that contest, Good is starting from behind, though he is clearly trying to catch up.

The day DeSantis dropped out of the race, Good announced he was endorsing Trump. He’s additionally taken to showing up at campaign events wearing a MAGA hat, has “TRUMP/GOOD” plastered on his campaign signs, and has the support of MAGA stalwarts like Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) and Meadows.

But it might not be enough. A PAC backing McGuire had a mobile billboard follow Good around on the campaign trail blasting his praise of DeSantis. And McGuire, a former Navy SEAL, has also received a lot of help from Good’s own colleagues.

The Republican Mainstreet Partnership—the political arm of a pro-business caucus in Congress—is supporting McGuire. McGuire even had a good meeting with Trump recently at Mar-a-Lago, according to the source close to Trump.

On top of that, he has gained the support of Rudy Giuliani and delivered the pledge of allegiance at a Trump rally in Virginia earlier this year.

“I’ve been with President Trump since the beginning, since he came down the escalator,” McGuire said at the rally, referring to Trump’s June 2015 presidential campaign announcement.

But Trump seems wary of playing favorites in the race. He didn’t call out McGuire or Good during that rally—both were in attendance—and according to two sources familiar with Trump’s thinking on the race, Trump is unlikely to weigh in on the primary.

“They’re not helping Good, but they’re also not going to engage,” one Trumpworld source told The Daily Beast. “But Trump wouldn’t care if he lost, which is a big problem for Good. How does the Freedom Caucus chairman oppose Trump in the primary, not get his support, and then expect to lead in a Trump-led Republican party?”

One of the sources close to Trump said the former president realizes Good begged him for an endorsement, “and then turned around and endorsed DeSantis.”

Photograph of John McGuire.

John McGuire greets delegates at the 2020 7th District Republican Convention in Doswell, VA.

Bill Clark/Getty

Predictably, Greene was all-too-happy to point out the contrasts between Good and McGuire.

“First of all, he’s a Navy SEAL,” Greene said of McGuire. “So that’s incredible. That speaks for itself of what kind of person he is and how much he loves our country [that he’s] willing to die for it.”

“The second part is he’s an unwavering Trump supporter. He never wavered. He never turned. He never even questioned,” Greene said, drawing a contrast with Good.

Of course, Good’s campaign tried to draw its own contrasts with McGuire, with Diana Shores, Good’s campaign manager, telling The Daily Beast that McGuire is just running because he’s “a career candidate” who has “run six races in seven years.”

Meanwhile, McGuire’s campaign put Good’s disloyalty to the former president front and center in its statement. A spokesperson for the Virginia state senator told The Daily Beast that “on the day Donald Trump was wrongfully indicted,” Good decided to endorse DeSantis and that his pivot towards supporting Trump was proof that “he will say whatever is needed to save himself.”

But Good’s race isn’t the only one that could decide his political future. Another one is a much more important race: Trump’s.

The source close to Trump was clear that Good wouldn’t survive “in any kind” of leadership position if Trump won.

“I believe confidently no,” this person said.

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